Don't Tell My Shareholders: Management Advice From Best Buy CEO

by Aman Singh Das | April 18, 2011

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  1. Are you the CEO of a household brand with almost 180,000 employees?
  2. Do you have almost 10,000 friends on Twitter?
  3. Do have 5,000 friends on Facebook (the official limit) and asked Facebook numerous times to up that limit?
  4. Do you align business growth, CSR and sustainability with your workforce's motivations?
  5. Do you answer every singly query, DM and tweet yourself (as opposed to a social media intern or administrative help)?

For Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn, the answer to all these questions is a resounding yes. A self-proclaimed advocate for social media, Dunn was the keynote speaker at the recent Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship's (BCCCC) annual conference. His topic: Best Buy's Sustainability Strategy.

Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn Discusses Social Media and What Sustainability Means for the Retailer

If we were expecting him to talk about Best Buy's recent Buy Back program or efforts in recycling and reducing electronic waste, we were dead wrong. Instead what the audience—a full room of approximately 400 people—received was an hour of why sustainability for Best Buy is about "the people in the blue shirts."

For Dunn, who started his career at Best Buy as a part time salesman, it's all very personal. From the monotony of working in retail to the different complexities of running such a large organization, Dunn seems to get it.

As GreenBiz's Marc Gunther, who spoke to Dunn soon after his talk, points out, "It wasn't your typical speech about sustainability or corporate responsibility. I don't believe he mentioned the words 'carbon footprint.' Instead he talked, in a personal way, about Best Buy's people, their aspirations, how they connect to sustainability and how he connects to them. "

Business sustainability is in essence a useless catchphrase, said Dunn—unless employee engagement and empowerment is factored in.

After a poignant video titled "Who We Want to Be," featuring Best Buy through the eyes of a store manager who started as a part time cashier in 2001 and manages 130 employees today as a store manager, Dunn took the audience on a rollercoaster of topics.

Main lessons from his presentation:

Connecting Employees with Purpose on the Job

"The real essence of why we [Best Buy] exist on the planet—and please don't tell our shareholders because I want to make them a great profit while I do it—is to provide opportunities for people."

"We have the ability to create the American dream for people: For people to be able to walk in with nontraditional backgrounds and experiences and become adaptive learners in creating great futures for themselves."

The Criticality of Sustainability

"Today sustainability is a 'nice to have.' Tomorrow it will be an operating requirement."

Measuring Employee Engagement

"If you actually spend some time and roll up your sleeves, people will tell you what's good about what they do [at Best Buy] and what's not good about their job. And man that's precious."

Getting Rid of the Management Skin

"If you don't take anything else about what I said today, get engaged with your people pulling the wagon because you will learn what their hopes are, what they care about, what their dreams are, what you're not doing well and what you're not…you have to fight that totally human characteristic of executives to explain everything with a logical explanation of why we can't do this or that. Shed that skin and flip the paradigm to how can we get that done?"

Deploying Your Human Search Engine

"If you are lucky enough to build the kind of platform that lets people see their aspirations, their hopes, their future, boy, that's a powerful, powerful engine."

"In 2008, when the world went kind of nutty very quickly, we had a management meeting with some very smart people. We put our pointy wisdom hats on and discussed how we could cut our costs. One of the things discussed was pared down employee discounts….seemed like a good idea, hardly anyone will notice, blah blah blah. We got hammered on our internal discussion board Whiteboard.

We quickly realized that it was a really, really bad decision. It would have saved us $10 million annualized but it would have probably cost us 50 times that in terms of employee goodwill. My point is: You can't just have a Watercooler for employee complaints. You've got to be willing to engage and listen."

Using the Power of Social Media

"I've begged and lobbied Facebook—and I'm not the kind of guy who likes to beg or plead—to increase the limit on how many friends we can have. They say these people are not exactly your friends. Sure enough, I don't know most of them well enough but this is a space for my employees to talk to me freely and openly and I love it."

"People don't line up outside my office to give me bad news. You have to go look for it…social media allows you to hear from people who are experiencing your strategy, the good and the bad."

Message from a CEO: Get Involved or Get Out

"There is a massive conversation going on there and you've got to be a part of it. Or you can stick your head in a sandbox I guess and not be a part of it but the only real choice is to get engaged in the conversation that's underway."

Related:

The Conference Junkie: Are We Preaching to the Converted?
BCCCC: Watch Brian Dunn's keynote at BCCCC's Corporate Citizenship Conference
Marc Gunther: Best Buy CEO: Sustainability Is All About the People

Filed Under: CSR

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